Review in Summary
Regency Cthulhu is the new setting book released for Call of Cthulhu that takes the classic HP Lovecraft game and gives it a Jane Austen twist. The book comes with rules for running a Cthulhu game set in Regency Era England (aprox. 1811-1820), a fictional town in which to set your stories, and two adventures for Keepers to use.
Regency manages to keep the game feeling fresh while also feeling still somewhat familiar. While a lot of systems needed to be tweaked in the process of converting the game to a time before cars, it is surprising how few of the changes significantly impact the overall feel. The book does add new systems such as Occupational Bands and the Reputation system that add to the verisimilitude of playing a member of the landed gentry in Regency Era England. Now, not only are you having to navigate the usual mysteries and intrigue of a classic Cthulhu game, but you also have to now carefully pay attention to courtly politics and ensure your path to saving the world doesn’t come at the expense of your reputation.
The two included adventures illustrate this delicate dance beautifully. Both are fantastic introductions to the setting and can be played sequentially or separately. The fictional town of Tarryford where the adventures take place is rich with occult secrets, quirky characters, and powerful nobles that players will enjoy interacting with.
Regency adds some new features as well as tweaking some existing systems to fit with the time period of the Regency Era. Some more modern skills like Computer Use and Electronics have been removed, while others, such as Hypnosis, Psychoanalysis, and Science, have been replaced with their regency equivalent of Mesmerism, Reassure, and Natural Philosophy respectively. (Side note: I love that the Regency equivalent of getting therapy is just someone reassuring you).
The major new things Regency adds are Occupational Bands and the Reputation system. Investigators in Regency are encouraged to be part of the landed gentry. The gentry are the members of the upper class that are not part of the old aristocracy that has ties to the royal family. While players can play members of the lower classes, Regency stresses that such characters will have limited mobility in most social circles due to the nature of how England viewed worth during this time.
Occupational Bands are thus an indicator of a person’s status in society determined by their credit rating and how they choose to spend their time. There are five different bands: Laborers, Shopkeepers/Craftspersons, Professional (a person who earned their wealth through a lucrative trade such as a lawyer or doctor), the landed Gentry/Nouveau Riche, and the Aristocracy. Moving between these bands is practically impossible and even if you manage to, the others in that class will view you with distaste or suspicion.
In addition to this, Regency adds the Reputation system. While optional, I highly recommend Keepers engage in this system as it adds to the overall feel of living in an era with as many social landmines as Regency Era England. Reputation, like Sanity, is tracked from 0 to 99. Higher reputation gets you into more exclusive events and grants you hefty bonuses to social rolls. Lower reputation gets you shunned or ostracized and imposes strict penalties on social rolls. It is remarkably easy to lose reputation and extremely difficult to gain it. Something as innocuous as kissing your paramour on the cheek in public, wearing the wrong clothes or being single while past a certain age point can cost you a not-insignificant amount of reputation. All of this adds to the verisimilitude of a setting that feels just as dangerous on the dance floor as it is in the outer dimensions of the great old ones.
Trouble in Tarryford
In addition to the changes and new systems, Regency includes two new adventures that take place in the fictional town of Tarryford. Tarryford is a rich and vibrant town with its own secrets and deep history. There is a section that goes into detail about all the features of the town and the surrounding estates to provide Keepers with plenty of material to answer the inevitable questions from players or spur inspiration to create something new. Even if you don’t end up using the adventures that come with the book, the town of Tarryford is sure to give you some great ideas for mysteries or conflicts within the city.
The first adventure is a shorter module made to be an introduction to the world of Regency. It concerns a mysterious hallway in an old estate where dark forces hold sway. The Northlake family is holding an annual ball that is the event of the season. But it quickly becomes clear that the Northlakes are hiding a sinister legacy and it is up to the players to figure it out before the Northlake estate and even the town of Tarryford is consumed. As an introduction to the setting, The Long Corridor succeeds in setting up the style of play Regency offers. With the ball playing a central part in the story, players are forced to navigate the tightrope of social etiquette, increasing their status and influence, while also trying to save everyone from an eldritch horror.
The second adventure, The Emptiness Within is a longer adventure, meant to be played upon completion of The Long Corridor. It concerns an ancient cabal of sorcerers who made a pact with a dark and mysterious entity before they were wiped out by the British tribes and Roman legions. Afterwards, their temple complexes fell into obscurity before being rediscovered by the owner of a pub in the 16th century before being sealed once more. But lately, strange occurrences have been happening at the Mortview house. The previous owner, Valentine Williams was heard spouting insane babblings before being discovered dead. Now, his children Robert and Diana have started acting strangely, putting residents ill at ease. The Emptiness Within is a fantastic follow-up adventure that feels like classic Cthulhu but with a Jane Austen twist. Things are not what they seem and players must work quickly to avert disaster once more.
To be honest, I don’t really have a lot to complain about when it comes to Regency Cthulhu. The developers feel like they accomplished what they set out to do: bring the world of Cthulhu into a Jane Austen-style drama. The book goes into a deep overview of the history of the period including a brief timeline of recent events as well as a breakdown of society, culture and etiquette in the Regency Era.
The adventures are well designed and don’t feel overly convoluted. The only small reservation I have is that, if you are not playing a member of the landed Gentry or you aren’t interested in following very strict rules of societal etiquette as a player, you are going to have a rough time. Fortunately, Chaosium provides guidance on running such characters and suggests that those of the lower class roleplay as servants to those players that are of the Gentry. I would caution that if you are going to do this however, make sure both players are on board and establish boundaries with each other so that it doesn’t cause friction between them.
If you’ve always wanted to play out your Pride & Prejudice fantasy but still love the idea of dealing with horrifying abominations from the beyond, then Regency Cthulhu might be the game you’ve been waiting for. The systems that modify the original game are elegant and easy to understand without reinventing the wheel. Even if the adventures aren’t to your taste, the intriguing town of Tarryford offers a number of exciting plot hooks and ideas for any investigation you want to run. Just make sure you remember to greet the master of the house properly before you go sneaking off into his boudoir to close a portal that leads to the Dreamlands.
Regency Cthulhu is Available Now:
Want to try Regency Cthulhu for yourself? I’m getting ready to run a one-shot on StartPlaying.Games.